Unix is Dead, Long Live Unix

Unix turns 40: The past, present and future of a revolutionary OS is fascinating reading.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2009/06/unix-is-dead-long-live-unix.html

The upside to a lot of open source development is that it’s people developing for themselves. And that often leads to excellent, well-built solutions, because the feedback loop is direct and tight. It’s one of the reasons why linux, apache, etc. are so efficient and have such an excellent feature set.

However, the downside is also that it’s people developing for themselves. There isn’t much room for user advocates, PMs, usability experts, etc. on open source software, except at the very, very top. Which makes for software that is very well made for engineers with lots of enthusiasm and free time but often a usability nightmare for casual users.


I think it’s safe to assume that he meant http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nota_bene, which is a fairly common notation in technical writing.

The “less is more” philosophy of Unix vs Windows also unfortunately for Ken Thompson did not result in him becoming a multi-billionaire.


Nice post…
Love the graph! :slight_smile:

I’m 99% sure that opensolaris is not yet considered a replacement for proprietary solaris, but an alternative. which might make solaris a mixed/shared source unix?

Amen to the last part. I’d rather worry about what’s best for [me|my client] than being [pro|anti][MS|Apple|*nix].

I’m not sure about Joel’s comparison of UNIX and windows. For me I started out with windows and spent years trying to figure it out. I then tried linux and was flying within a week. In other words windows is complicated while UNIX is complex. I hate to see complicated stuff being ported to linux.

“So, yes, I’m a fan of Unix. And I’m also a fan of Windows. I think it’s worth studying what both are getting right and wrong, because as a programmer, I’m a fan of whatever the heck works.”

Oh my God, I so agree with this I might cry…

many times, in unix the end user is another programmer or sys admin.

Too bad his wife and kid didn’t take a year-long vacation!

A new Unix contender in the mixed column category: WebOS. The underpinnings are Linux with a proprietary OS.

I’ve worked in both the Windows and Unix environments, and Windows is about 5 years behind the times in terms of ideas and philosophy. The problem is the same reason why BSD license supporters aren’t worried that people will steal their code: You make something proprietary and you have to support it all by yourself. When everyone was busy writing their own proprietary OS, Microsoft had a great advantage. When everyone is working together on Unix, Microsoft can’t keep up.

Windows innovation begin and end with Microsoft. While in the Open Source world, it’s the market that decides who wins.

Who knew a decade ago that a developer from Finland would be the innovator of the next OS (or at least the kernel)?? Linus was so wrong about everything: He wanted to work with the CISC x86 when everyone knew RISC processors were going to win. He insisted upon a giant kernel architecture when everyone knew that microkernel is the way to go.

Who knew that Java still had a lot of life left in it? Who knew that JavaScript could actually be used to develop full blown applications? Is Php development a good way to go, or should you use RAILS with a strong MVC environment? What about the Spring Framework? It’s all about choices. May the best technology win.

You’re absolutely right that mixed OSs might be the way to go. It relieves the company to come up with their own kernel and protocols, and they can concentrate on the upper layers of the OS. Microsoft should steal a page out of Apple’s book and make the next version of Windows based upon the Linux kernel. Then, not only does Windows get the “cool factor” of being based upon Linux, but it can take direct advantage of the open source technology without having to rewrite everything from scratch.

Jeff -

Someone you know very well recently wrote: “copy-pastes wikipedia rolls in own feces.” Agree.

PDP-7 was an 18-bit machine (and wire-wrapped) with toggle switches and blinking lights on the front panel. It didn’t really have what we would call an operating system these days. (Link to user’s manual: http://www.soemtron.org/downloads/decinfo/f75pdp7userhbkjun65.pdf).

  • Lepto

“Windows (historically) assumes there will be only one user per computer - the attempt at fixing this is a bit of a hack. Unix assumes there will be multiple user accounts. Windows assumes the user will have admin privilege.”

Neither of these things were true of the NT line, which is the ancestor to modern Windows. The attempt at fixing these problems was to radically rewrite the kernel to not assume such things.

HOWEVER, this part is true:

“Many windows apps assume this [single user with admin privs], too.”

And that wasn’t really locked down in XP, which was really Microsoft’s Great Mistake, far moreso than anything done in Vista.

“The user access flaws in windows are responsible for the huge proliferation of computer viruses seen online.”

Running as admin, usually in order to use the flawed apps is what’s responsible.

“How can anyone trust such an OS to do business?”

Don’t run as admin. As a corollary, don’t run apps that require you to run as admin. Same as every other OS. The fact is that these are proportional more common on Windows (I have no evidence for this but I believe it to be true), but then, I bet you in absolute numbers, properly written apps on Windows outnumber properly written apps on other Operating Systems.

after reading the ‘you just can’t win’ post of yours, I highly reccomend you follow Charlie Brooker on Twitter (@charltonbrooker and @charlie_brooker)

(dissapointed at the loss of ‘orange’ :wink:

Well, I might say more that the fundamental difference between Unix culture and Windows culture is that Windows culture values monolithic applications and Unix culture values building things in single pieces that do one and only one thing. It doesn’t have to be a series of cryptic command-line programs, that just unfortunately happens to be how it evolved.

It takes more time to develop a complete, functional application that a non-programmer can use, with the Unix method, but I think it results in a much more well-designed system.


You’ve missed Solaris. OpenSolaris != Solaris. Solaris has huge inroads in the financial markets and is the platform of choice for Oracle, as evidenced in one company buying the other.

You can get Solaris x86 (which again is not OpenSolaris) for free from Sun. If you want it on SPARC then free (beer) or not isn’t a problem for you, I’d suspect.

Also, don’t forget UNIX services for Windows, or whatever they’ve rebranded it to now. IIRC it ships with 2008 server.

@Alistair: Charlie Brooker should become the totem hero of every miserablist Englishman everywhere. Along with James May.

“saw the month-long departure of his wife and young son as an opportunity to put his ideas for a new operating system into practice.”

I wish I woke up with ideas like that…

Nice research!

It’s amazing what two guys can achieve once the women are out the way